Monday, July 15, 2024

“I’ll see you in the tunnel.” There was a time when that statement held more weight than just a casual remark on the soccer field, even if some players found ways to avoid confrontations. Liam Ridgewell, former defender for Aston Villa, Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, and Portland Timbers, shares a story with The Athletic about a challenge he made to Bouba Diop during a game. Ridgewell would intentionally head the ball and put his studs down on an opponent’s back, a move that would result in a red card today. Diop responded by threatening to meet Ridgewell in the tunnel after the game. Ridgewell attempted to avoid this encounter by prolonging his time on the field, even clapping for the home fans, so he wouldn’t have to enter the tunnel.

Football tunnels, like everything else, have changed over time. The more spacious layouts of modern stadiums mean that players rarely have close interactions with each other before the game, reducing tension. The design and atmosphere of the tunnel area between the dressing rooms and the pitch have also evolved. Manchester City, for example, has replaced concrete blocks with glass, allowing VIPs in the “Tunnel Club” to have a better view. Additionally, player behavior has shifted. Former players like Gary Neville and Roy Keane would not even look at their opponents, showcasing the bravado of going into battle. However, football isn’t about going to war anymore. Nowadays, players are more friendly in the tunnel, with interactions ranging from playful banter, hugging, and even asking about each other’s families and well-being.

Former players like Ridgewell reminisce about the old days when the tunnel was dirty and dingy, setting an intimidating stage for what awaited on the field. Now, players are often seen asking for shirts before games and engaging in friendly conversations. Minor incidents, like Kyle Walker refusing to shake hands with an opponent’s staff member, receive more attention than before. However, compared to the past, post-match feuds or brawls in the tunnel are now rare occurrences. The tunnel no longer holds the same level of intimidation it once did, where managers and players believed that games could be won or lost in that space. Aidy Boothroyd, former manager of Northampton Town, even used the tunnel as a tactic to gain an advantage by making his players go out early and demonstrating their dominance.

Sometimes, the tunnel itself can be more intimidating than the opposing team. In the 1990s, Galatasaray created a hostile environment for visiting teams. Graeme Le Saux recounts his experience when Chelsea played there in a Champions League game. The noise and chaos outside the tunnel were alarming, with people launching objects at riot police. The riot shields created a barrier of protection but also contributed to the atmosphere of intimidation. Once the game started, players were in their own world, focused on the field rather than the tunnel. Despite the nerves and tension, they channeled their energy into a strong performance.

In conclusion, the dynamics of football tunnels have evolved over time. The once-intimidating and confrontational environment has given way to a more friendly and relaxed atmosphere, where interactions between players are more amicable. The tunnel itself is no longer a place where games are won or lost, but rather a pathway to the field where players showcase their skills and compete.

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